Avoiding easy

When you spend all day working with the same piece of software your definition of what is easy for someone else becomes horribly skewed. Since I started jamming with the CoPress gang in 2009, I have spent thousands of hours staring at a WordPress dashboard. It means much of the WordPress interface is easy for me. That’s dangerous.

I try to minimize the number of times I use easy in a support reply. I avoid phrases like “Setting up custom menus is easy…” or “Writing a new post is easy…” There are a few reasons for this.

First, if a feature or product were legitimately easy the user would not be writing in to support about how stuck they are. Sure, some percentage of users will find questions to ask about any interface. But do you want to start the conversation by assuming the user falls into that percentage? You venture to learn much more if you assume the software is wrong, not the user.

Second, describing something as easy sets a dangerously high bar for the user when they walk away and try it for themselves. Before you characterize a feature as easy you should be certain it actually is. If you say “easy” and the user does not get it they will, at best, feel like they are wasting your time and, at worst, feel like it is not worth using your product.

Finally, the worst part about saying a product is easy is that it immediately starts the conversation by putting you in command. You are the expert. You are the one who said it was easy. In some cases that is okay. It will work out. But doing so shuts down your opportunity for learning from your users. If, instead, you think back to the days when you did not know everything, you can start the conversation on an equal ground. Help the user accomplish their goal but also learn about where the pain points are so that you can make the user’s experience, and your product, better.

The best support is a conversation. The best support happens when a user learns how to do something new and you learn about how your product can be better. This can only happen when you do not immediately think of your software as easy, intuitive, or simple. If you can remember that you too were once new to things you will end up with a better product and, most importantly, happier users.

12 thoughts on “Avoiding easy

  1. I gravitate toward beginners workshops for this reason.

    Many users don’t write out their thought process in emails. Instead, they ask questions or express frustration about something that just doesn’t work. We see only the result of their thinking — not the process.

    If we’re not careful, we can wrongly assume that there is no thought process. That users are asking “easy” questions because they’re lazy, and don’t want to be bothered.

    It’s very difficult to make this mistake when you look at a person trying their best to understand something new.

  2. Manifesto material:

    The best support is a conversation. The best support happens when a user learns how to do something new and you learn about how your product can be better. This can only happen when you do not immediately think of your software as easy, intuitive, or simple. If you can remember that you too were once new to things you will end up with a better product and, most importantly, happier users.

  3. “Easy” is relative. I try not to judge other people’s interpretation of the world, in life or in support.

    Instead of saying something is easy, I like saying I’m here and ready-and-willing to help–and then following through on that (which doesn’t always happen at other places).

  4. If someone comes to support, they often bring baggage with them – frustration, confusion, impatience. In addition to what you listed above, saying something is “easy” can be seen as dismissing the user’s feelings (because support about attitudes and perceptions as much, if not more, than about actual software). Dismissing the user’s feelings is the best way to alienate them. They feel truly supported when not only their technical problem is solved, but also when it’s solved in a friendly, compassionate, non-condenscending way. For me, that’s what “Happiness” in “Happiness Engineering” stands for.

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